1st March 2021

During the first national lockdown, poet Nina Alonso of Poetry by Heart invited her female friends from around the world to learn a poem and record themselves reciting it.

She compiled clips from these into a new ‘video-poem’ that made an original response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Inspired by this, our current cohort of PGCE Secondary English teachers wove their own Cento poems, using one or two lines that they felt spoke for them about their experience this year, borrowed from other literature. These fragments combine to form new poems, entirely composed of writings by other authors.

The concept of Cento poetic form has a long history; in the ancient world Hosidius Geta’s poetic tragedy Medea is a Cento entirely constructed using lines and half lines by Virgil, and a more modern example is Peter Gizzi’s Ode: Salute to the New York School.

You can read the trainees' compositions below:

I sat as the water fell against my ankles built itself up around me

For oft, when on my couch I lie,

Looking northward looking southward

In vacant or in pensive mood –

Nobody else was out…

Flashed news in hand

I’m trying to be truthful.

Of meaning it dazes to understand,

Not a cute card or a kissogram –

We try to talk but have to shout:

“I can love you!”

Filling my coffee cup before floating it away from the table –

Looking to the goal looking back without control

But only from a distance.

4

2

6

2

3

1

5

1

5

3

7

4

6

7

Sources

  1. ‘A Wife in London’ by Thomas Hardy
  2. ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ by William Wordsworth
  3. ‘Sand-between-the-toes’ by A. A Milne
  4. ‘It Was the Animals’ by Natalie Diaz
  5. ‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy
  6. ‘Reflection’ by Christina Rossetti
  7. ‘From Distance’ by R. H. Sin

Shake my future push me past my complacency, [1]

My taken - for - granted, my comfort zone -

I do not need my freedom when I'm dead. [2]

The woman is perfected.

Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment. [3]

Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand [4]

Tis not too late to seek a newer world. [5]

The universe did not

Breathe star fire into your bones [6]

As though to breathe were life [5]

Just so you could burn yourself out. [6]

How dull it is to pause, to make an end, [5]

Summer's lease hath all too short a date [7]

Wait and watch until

The fattening dots burst into

Nimble

Swimming tadpoles. [8]

  1. ‘Shake My Future’ - Dorothea Smartt
  2. ‘Democracy’ – Langston Hughes
  3. Edge’ – Sylvia Plath
  4. ‘Remember’ – Christina Rossetti
  5. ‘Ulysses’ – Lord Alfred Tennyson
  6. ‘Meanwhile’ – Nikita Gill
  7. ‘Sonnet 18’ – William Shakespeare
  8. ‘Death of a Naturalist’ – Seamus Heaney

I’m under the rubble and have stopped screaming, (3)

And right now, they’re building a coffin my size (4)

for sad old earth must borrow its mirth, (6)

Mama, we're all gonna die(4)

Water water everywhere nor any drop to drink (5)

Some days I can almost hear sirens in the distance (3)

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, (1)
Mama, we're meant for the flies (4)

Been so used to having something (3)

For ghosts can visit when they choose (2)

I have to believe someone will save me eventually (3)

Weep and you weep alone (6)

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, (1)

My voice has forgotten how to ask for help (3)

Whereas we humans can't refuse (2)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, (1)

On top of me at all times (3)

Towards our distant rest began to trudge (1)

To grant the interview (2)

How do you become something that (3)

has trouble enough of its own (6)

Grows between the cracks? (3)

I believe I am still recovering (3)

Laugh and the world laughs with you (6)

Mama, we're all gonna (4)

Sources:

1. Dulce – Wilfred Owen

2. Phantasmagoria – Lewis Carroll

3. Buried – Zane Frederick

4. Mama – Gerard Way

5. Rime of the ancient mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

6. Solitude – Ella Wilcox

Today you see far down a mountainside [1]

May that breath rest you [2]

The ship goes down and everybody is lost, or is living comfortably [3]

Out over islands to a sure horizon [1]

What does it matter where people go? [4]

(Your) taken for granted comfort zone [5]

(You) find (your)self at the edge [3]

Where (are you) going? (You) don’t know [4]

It’s useful to have other people [6]

People will always need people [6]

A caged bird stands on the grave of dreams [7]

To love and to miss [6]

As it has until now, and now, and now [2]

Absence and heat everywhere [3]

To hug and to kiss [6]

Shake (your) future, push (you) past your complacency [5]

And may each breath rest you. [2]

Sources:

  1. Journey by Christine de Luca
  2. A Solstice Blessing by Paidraig O Tuama
  3. Peaches by Jack Gilbert
  4. Spring Morning by A A Milne
  5. Shake My Future by Dorothea Smart
  6. People Will Always Need People by Benjamin Zephaniah
  7. Caged Bird by Maya Angelou

Interested in a career in teaching?

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